Changing Policy at the Local Level: WPI-Local 2017-2018 - Women's Foundation California
(Fellows from left to right: Danielle Guillen, Malaika Merid, Radin Rahimzadeh, and Linda Ly)

April 24, 2018
Written by Elizabeth Ayala, Senior Program Associate, Women’s Foundation of CA

“The Women’s Policy Institute has changed my career trajectory.  It has helped me grow into a professional policy advocate and added to my experience in working with other badass women of color.” – Desiree Sanchez, class of 2017-18 WPI-Local Graduate, Community Engagement and Policy Advocate ACLU – Southern California

Earlier this Spring, the Women’s Foundation of California celebrated the graduation of our third cohort in our Women’s Policy Institute fellowship program that is focused on local policy advocacy (cities, counties, and special districts). It is a sister program to WPI-State, which is itself in its 15th year. In our third cohort, five teams of community leaders from the counties of Los Angeles, Monterey, Riverside and San Bernardino did policy research, held meetings with key policymakers and stakeholders, and wrote policy briefs with concrete recommendations of solutions to critical problems faced by their communities. From advocating for the expansion of the California Food Assistance Program to include undocumented folks to asserting that domestic violence survivors receive affordable housing, our fellows are getting first-hand experience in what it takes to shape laws, regulations and ordinances at the local level.

Not only do WPI-Local Government fellows learn the ins and outs of the policymaking process, they also leave the program recognizing that a change has happened at the personal level as well. One graduate shared that WPI “increased my confidence level dramatically. I caught myself in an unrelated meeting yesterday afternoon talking about the importance of policy that looks at intersectionality [which WPI gave training on] and when I finished I was impressed with how naturally I had the confidence to speak up.” Another fellow shared that the WPI-Local fellowship was an experience that they did not get while in grad school for public policy.

“While policy school has taught me so many things about crafting and implementing thoughtful, equitable, and inclusive policies, WPI taught me how to think like a policy practitioner,” Malaika Merid current public policy student said. “WPI gave me the toolkit to understand the processes of employing policies, the real life setbacks you face as a practitioner, and invaluable hands on policy experience that I never would have gotten in my Master’s program. It was also amazing to see such a diverse range of brilliant women leading and helping us.”  

The WPI-Local fellowship program not only builds the capacity of community members impacted by gender injustice but helps them make concrete advances in their policy work during the course of the fellowship.

In addition to the issues mentioned above, the teams also advocated for housing opportunities for the formerly incarcerated, adding early childcare development and care to local government general plans, and increasing food assistance to the undocumented community. At their final retreat, each team received a mini-grant to continue their policy work based on their WPI training on how to impact local government. For instance, the Monterey County team is going to translate its policy brief into Spanish to use it as a community organizing tool.  Their goal is to include early childhood care and education elements in city general plans across their region. The policy briefs of each team in this year’s class can be found on the Women’s Foundation of California website here.

With this graduation, we were excited to accept applications from all over the state for our fourth WPI-Local cohort.  14 teams applied for six team slots. The newly accepted class of WPI-Local includes 90% leaders of color from the counties of Alameda, Los Angeles, Monterey, Santa Cruz, and San Bernardino. It will also be the second time that WPI-Local is a bilingual English/Spanish program to ensure the inclusion of leaders closest to their community. WPI is open to those impacted by gender injustice, including cisgender and transgender women, gender-variant and non-binary individuals, and transgender men.

 This year’s 2018-19 cohort is composed of teams of three leaders from the same county who will be tackling critical problems in their respective communities in the issues areas of environmental justice, criminal justice, economic justice and health. You can read more about our 18 new WPI-Local fellows here.


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